Low, but not lowest: what’s different about the ground in Ultimate

I’ve trained ten amiibo since Ultimate’s launch across a variety of characters: Ganondorf, Greninja, Mii Swordfighter, Mario and Jigglypuff, to name a few. While this doesn’t put me in the highest echelons of training experience, at this point I can now say that I’ve made some helpful observations about Ultimate amiibo.

They r smartr (in case you didn’t get the news)

It takes about fifteen seconds to notice that amiibo in Ultimate are much, much smarter than their Smash 4 counterparts. This is due to Ultimate’s vastly improved CPU AI as well, which amiibo AI is built off of. Unlike Smash 4, amiibo can now gimp offstage, dodge and avoid opponents more strategically, stick closer to their training, and most important, taunt. I could beat most of the top-level amiibo I came across in Smash 4 while playing as Ganondorf with little difficulty and no bonuses. That situation seems unlikely in Ultimate: I haven’t gotten my hands on any top-level amiibo yet (as there is no top level yet), but the best ones I’ve trained are quite hard to beat for me.

Aerial attacks aren’t the solution but help the problem

Amiibo like to jump. Sometimes they have a reason to jump, and sometimes they don’t. I’ve found that they’ll jump whether they have a reason to or not, which poses the same problem as Smash 4 amiibo: how do you keep them from jumping, but when they inevitably jump how do you keep them from exposing themselves? We mostly solved that problem in 4 with Reverse Feeding, which doesn’t appear to exist in Ultimate, although I’m looking into something similar. Now that amiibo are smarter than a box of rocks, we can teach them to use aerials when they jump, and they’ll do it.

(Do keep in mind that jumping even a little will allow your amiibo to jump almost endlessly. I’m not telling you to jump and spam aerials without regard to their long-term jumping behavior).

However, there is still a shortcut to getting them to jump less, or at least be less vulnerable when jumping. Built into the game is a code for a short hop to aerial attack: depending on your control scheme, you can input a short hop that immediately buffers an aerial attack for 85% of the damage that it would normally do. While amiibo will still full jump after you demonstrate the short hop shortcut, they’ll often use the shortcut instead of jumping. This solves quite a few problems, and even provides an advantage in battle, because…

This isn’t a pixel-perfect map, it’s more of a concept description.

Grounded is death, but going high melts your wings

See the above picture? It’s a color coded graph of the amiibo’s safety in certain heights off the ground based off the matches that I’ve watched. While these heights are only true for Final Destination (I’m still watching footage for Battlefield and Smashville), it indicates something that was definitely not present in Smash 4: the air. Now, personally, I prefer the air, but previously shields and rolls dominated over every option. That resulted in lead feet being the best method to kick your opponent’s butt: staying on the ground meant victory in most cases, unless both opponents were in the air.

That all changed when Ultimate gave out heavy nerfs to defensive manuevers, resulting in invulnerability losses for shields, dodges and rolls. It gave some restitution by introducing parrying, but that’s little consolation against multi-hit aerial attacks. In addition, all characters now have the same shield durability (or so I’ve heard, Smash Wiki is still not updated on that) while out-of-shield options are mostly confined to special moves, nerfed defensive options, and jumps. These nerfs combined make ground-based defense a difficult option for amiibo not specifically equipped for that playstyle.

Meanwhile, all characters’ jumpsquat animations have been reduced to basically nothing- it takes 3 frames to go from ground to air now. Aerial attacks have been sped up across the board, and the introduction of the directional air dodge gives dumber amiibo a failsafe should their attack go wrong. Landing lag is nearly nonexistent and parrying an opponent’s aerial attack only gives the defender a 3 frame advantage… which isn’t enough time to hit with a smash attack, but is enough time to jump. These new options together might shift the metagame completely away from ground-based defense all the way to air-ground-transition-based offense, so long as the amiibo are smart enough to perform that way, and so long as we’re smart enough to train them that way.

The lowest height on that chart is yellow-it’s a danger, but not lethal. That height represents ground-level play. While being on the ground means you (meaning your amiibo) have access to your shield, parrying, rolls and the option of a character-specific anti-air smash attack, using any of these options doesn’t take you out of harm’s way. Rolling or dodging only prolongs the agony of getting hit: while you’re moving, they can land and hit you with an attack as soon as your invincibility ends. If you roll or dodge again, you lose enough frames that you may as well stand still. Parrying has the same effect mostly, which only leaves a character-specific anti-air attack. At that point, you had better hope your name is Ganondorf or Bayonetta, because otherwise you stand a good chance at clinking your attacks together and being left in stun.

The middle height on the chart is roughly the height of all short hops. It’s supposed to represent the distance where a character could easily transition to the ground, but still has enough time to either jump again or use an aerial. Being in the air like this puts an amiibo in an advantageous position against a grounded opponent. As long as the opponent doesn’t have a very strong or fast anti-air attack, the character in short-hop height is the one in charge.

The top height is red. It’s meant to represent the heights that are higher than a simple short hop. A full jump or higher is the same as the red area. At this point, you (again, meaning your amiibo) are in the most danger that you can possibly be without being off-stage. One strong aerial attack from below will send you to the top blast zone in a hurry, but you’re too far away from the ground to refresh your jumps and maneuver away from the opponent. While no grounded player could really hit someone up here, a player in the green area would be in the perfect position to use their second jump and KO the opponent in the red area.

In summary

We’ve established that amiibo are much smarter this time around, and we can use their intelligence to further refine amiibo training. By doing a little bit of theorycrafting based on legitimate observations, we now know where to direct our training for the future. Amiibo that are taught to short hop-aerial buffer but not full jump are the in the best position, and thus we should focus our efforts on teaching them to use that strategy.


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